Book Review: Barclay Boy: Season in the Sun by James Scoltock

“My name’s James Scoltock, I’m a football fan and so very happily one dimensional” declares the author in his review of a dramatic 12 months for his club, Norwich City.

The 12 months in question are from May 2011 to May 2012 covering the final stages of Norwich’s promotion to the Premier League and their subsequent season in the top flight of English football. I worry that, although this may limit its appeal to fans of Norwich City, there are nevertheless few references to the club’s past and little that is enlightening about the club itself, however it is undoubtedly a passionate and personal view of a significant period of time in the footballing fortunes of the author’s team.

“I have my own favourite moment from the 2011-12 season. Grant Holt winning a free-kick from Laurent Koscielny in the centre-circle at Arsenal. The red majority of 60,000 supporters were up in arms, pouring their vitriol all over the City skipper who stood there, arms outstretched in a nonchalant gesture of innocence. It was the same gesture, the same vitriol City fans had seen from 4,000 supporters at Yeovil and 4,500 fans at Scunthorpe. And now it was happening at Arsenal”. Such an experience; not a result nor a goal, but a sudden realisation that your club’s place in the world has changed will resonate with all football fans. This is from the Foreword and unfortunately such genuinely astute footballing observations are never captured with the same clarity within the book itself.

Where the book succeeds is that it gives an insight into how a football fan’s time can be filled between games and in the close-season; worrying about the last game, worrying about the next game, worrying about who might be leaving or joining and what is being said about the club. And having read the book you will be familiar with much of what was said about the club; there are many transcripts of chat-room conversations and match reviews from nether regions of the internet, as well as more mainstream media content.

Diversions into topics such as Colitis, visits to Japanese football matches and attempts to star in an ESPN trailer for his club add a layer of interest yet, although these elevate it to more than a standard review of the season, surprisingly they give the reader little insight into the author or his character.

It’s an honest and occasionally amusing book with a scattering of typically football-esque mangled clichés such as “hammer in the coffin” and it captures a fan’s experience of a dramatic 12 months for Norwich City.  The fan lives in London, doesn’t get to all the games and supported Liverpool until 2004. That may or may not pique the interest of Norwich supporters who are looking for a book to help them re-live the experience of promotion to the top tier of English football and their relatively successful first season amongst the country’s top teams.

Paul Gowland


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Book Review: Does Your Rabbi Know You’re Here? by Anthony Clavane

When I was growing up, the football book market was pretty much restricted to lazy and often ‘ghosted’ biographies, where ‘the boys done good’ mentality was about as incisive as it got. Thankfully, as the early 1990’s emerged this changed, with books such as “Fever Pitch” by Nick Hornby paving the way for a better expression of the fan experience and the beautiful game in a wider context. Following in this vein Anthony Clavane wrote the Award winning “Promised Land: A Northern Love Story, which tells the tale of the rise and fall of Leeds United, intertwined with that of the City of Leeds and of the Jewish community.

Clavane has returned in 2012 with a new book “Does Your Rabbi Know You’re Here?”. The premise of this work is the exploration of, “…the role of Jews in English football’s transformation from a working-class pursuit played in the crumbling arenas to a global entertainment industry…” Clavane does so by looking at the stories of eleven key figures (although many others are detailed in the book), through three stages which illustrate the integration of Jews into English society. The eleven central characters are made up of players, fans, entrepreneurs and administrators, in a line-up that includes, Louis Bookman, Leslie Goldberg, Willy Meisl, Morris Keston, Harry Zussman, Mark Lazarus, David Pleat, Avi Cohen, David Dein, Roman Abramovich and David Bernstein. The three stages, which Clavane uses to show these pioneers influence and the journey of integration, are “the First Age”, “the Golden Age” and “the New Age”. In simple terms, the First Age relates to a period when, “…anti-Semitism was part of the public discourse…”, whilst the Golden Age was one of “…two parallel universes – the Jewish and the English, the Yiddisher world and the football world…”, and a time when Jews “…began to ride high on a wave of post-war social mobility…” Finally, in the New Age, “…the Jews finally become British…” completing “…the epic Anglo-Jewish journey from ghetto outsiders to football insiders…”

The various stories are well researched and bring to life early Jewish figures in football such as Louis Bookman, a “…Lithuanian-Jewish-Irishman…”, who left behind his Jewish family to play for Bradford City and WBA before the First World War and Luton Town and Port Vale after it. This all-round sportsman also played for Ireland at international level in football and cricket, and was an early example of a Jew who defied the clichéd image of a people who were weak and bookish.

Throughout the pages of this book, the threat of anti-Semitism is unmistakeable as Clavane details how some Jews felt compelled to play down their faith to gain acceptance and in many cases even changed their surname to avert attention. It was also shocking to read of the way that major European clubs like Bayern Munich and Arsenal air-brushed out Jewish figures in their history. In the case of Arsenal, this is a baffling stance, given as Clavane details that The Gunners used to be the first port of call for Jews wanting their football fix, before their North London rivals Spurs became the team most associated with a Jewish fan-base.

Although the author makes a compelling case for the Jewish influence in the modern game, through “…Abramovich’s wealth and Bernstein’s power…” Clavane acknowledges that “…the conflict between the values of traditional Judaism and athletic competition has not disappeared…” Indeed, he admits that he feels “…guilty for enjoying the pointless spectacle of grown men running around like meshuga (crazy)…” to this day.

Anthony Clavane brings all his experience both from his teaching background and that of journalism to create this excellent book, which is as much about social-history as it is about football. As a reader I want to engage with something that challenges me, which makes me think and at the end of it ensures I come away having learnt something. This book ticks all those boxes.



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Book Review: It’s All About The Memories by Jacqui Robertson and Kenny Ross

“This is a time of unprecedented uncertainty and disaffection in Scottish football, from the top of the game to the bottom…The extreme financial challenges facing Rangers and other SPL clubs, poor performances by Scottish clubs in Europe and the failure of the national team to reach the finals of a major competition since 1998, all add to a generally held feeling fuelled by an increasingly restive media, that the game has sunk to its lowest level in living memory.” This statement was made by outgoing Dundee FC chairman Bob Brannan in an open letter to the fans of the club in June 2010 and appears in the book titled “It’s All About The Memories” by Jacqui Robertson and Kenny Ross. This was a highly prophetic statement as in September 2010, Dundee FC entered administration and in the summer of 2012, Rangers were liquidated. To add a further twist to the tale, it was Dundee FC who took Rangers place in the Scottish Premier League this season after finishing runners up in the First Division in 2011/12.

This book tells the quite extraordinary tale of how The Dee found themselves facing a second spell of administration within the space of seven years. With the 2010/11 season underway, the club from Dens Park were then hit with a record 25 point deduction (the biggest in football history) as well as a transfer embargo. Incredibly, the team managed to avoid relegation, with a small squad of players that was supplemented by the use of trialists (who were limited to a maximum of three appearances) and managed by the previous Youth team manager, Barry Smith, assisted by two senior professionals, Matt Lockwood and Robert Douglas. This inexperienced management team steered Dundee to a club record 23 game unbeaten record against all the odds. Indeed the story of the 2010/11 season is so extraordinary that scriptwriters would be hard pushed to come up with a more outlandish plot. The reality is though that that those were the events of a monumental achievement in football terms, both on and off the pitch.

The writers of this book, Jacqui Robertson and Kenny Ross have captured the highs and lows of this period in the history of The Dee through interviews with many of the key figures from the 2010/11 season. Amongst those interviewed are Bryan Jackson, the Administrator from October 2010 to May 2011, players who were made redundant (Colin McMenamin and Paul McHale), players who were retained (Leigh Griffiths, Gary Harkins, Matt Lockwood and Rab Douglas), players who turned out as trialists (Tom Brighton, Neil McCann and Craig Robertson), key club officials (Gordon Wallace, Jim Thompson, Harry McLean and Laura Hayes), Graeme Brymer (a fan and moderator of the unofficial website “Dundee Mad”) and Barry Smith, who is currently managing Dundee FC in the Scottish Premier League. These interviews are interwoven with match details, and the unfurling of events “off the pitch” as the administrator battled to save the club.

What is evident through all those who contributed to the book is that the fans just wouldn’t allow the club to simply die. Their efforts in terms of fund raising, attending games home and away in numbers and the Dee-Fiant campaign, was staggering to read. The supporters truly became a “12th” man with the team feeding off the energy from the terraces. In the main this is a story of triumph over adversity, as not only did Dundee FC avoid relegation, but they emerged from administration in May 2011. However, the reality of what administration means to a club and its employees is also documented here. The release of players from their contracts as well as loyal club servants such as kit-man Neil Cosgrove is a note of sadness, which brings the reader back to earth with a bump.

In reading this book I came to understand more about the way administration works in football and gained a greater familiarity with the Scottish football scene. For fans of other clubs who see administration as the end of the road, this book will tell them otherwise. A great read, that I found genuinely inspiring.

Book Review: Goal-Post (Vol.1), Victorian Football edited by Paul Brown

What we come to understand today as the game of football, played and watched by millions across the world, began its real development in England during the Victorian era. This collection of writing edited by Paul Brown is drawn from library archives from such long-lost newspapers and periodicals as, Every Boy’s Magazine, The Dart and Chums, from 1863 through to 1900. It covers reports of games (including England v Scotland, 1872), articles from leading figures (such as, C.W.Alcock) and broaches topics such as “Association Football in Scotland”

For me it was a book best read article by article, so that the content of each of the twenty one pieces could be absorbed, appreciated and reread. One thing that is apparent when reading is the different style of Victorian writing and language used. I found it handy to have a dictionary close by when reading and had to stop myself on a number of occasions from thinking that this was some brilliantly written elaborate spoof.

Each reader will have their own favourite pieces, but for me I was totally absorbed by the report from the Sheffield & Rotherham Independent (15 October 1878) on the experiment of “…a match with the assistance of the electric light…” This incredibly atmospheric article from the game held in Sheffield tells the story of the first floodlit match some 70 years before it became a regular part of the football experience.

This book may chart the early more innocent years of football, but as the editor says in his introduction, it also includes “…tales of overpaid players, cheating, violence, legal battles an general bad behaviour…” which show that the game “…hasn’t really changed that much in the 150 years between the writing of the earliest of these pieces and their publication in these pages…”  Ultimately though it is a wonderful journey of discovery, allowing the reader an insight into the birth and growth of football through the eyes of those who were there in its formative years.

If you are looking for a thought provoking read and a different perspective on the beautiful game, then this anthology is for you.

More details can be found at


Book Review: Alfie Jones and a test of character by David Fuller

This is the second book in the “Alfie Jones” series (, following hot on the heels of his first footballing adventure Alfie Jones and a Change of Fortune. David Fuller again provides the words and Rob Smyth the illustrations.

As with all good series, the book quickly picks up and continues from the previous storylines, so that the reader is soon familiar with the central characters (Alfie Jones, Jasper Johnson and Madame Zola) and their relationship and are introduced to a new one in Hayden Whitlock, a boy who has just moved to the Kingsway area. This second book is set around the Kingsway Colts and their first competitive tournament and the advise by Madame Zola that you should, “…never judge a book by its cover…” I won’t spoil the plot, suffice to say that once again David Fuller provides a book that has pace and twists and turns aplenty that keep the reader hooked as the Colts play each game in the competition and Alfie tries to solve the riddle of the message from the mysterious fortune teller.

What I like about the storylines are that they feel genuine and says much about the way the author must impart his love and knowledge of football when coaching juniors. The messages about fair play, enjoying the game, sportsmanship are all here, but not in a way that dominates the drama as it unfolds. The inclusion of the Colts’ group results and league table is a lovely little touch that satisfies the football-statto in me, but reinforces the realm of reality of Alfie and the tournament the reader encounters.

Yes, it is a great read for children, but I would also recommend it to adults who find themselves on the touchline watching youth football – you may recognise yourself! An excellent second instalment – Alfie Jones hits the back of the net again.

Book Review: Countries of the World by Steven Porter

Having read the book and then attempting to write this review, I must admit I was unsure where to start. This was not because this isn’t a good read, but that the book covers so much ground, in so many styles and elicits so many emotions.

So let’s start with some basics. The book is 194 pages long and covers a time period between 1973 and 1998. It is divided into 9 sections – I’ve not called them chapters as some sections are no more than a single page, whilst others contain a collection of pieces.

In terms of writing style, these pieces cover the narrators life, with extracts from his homework as a child (in the fictional Scottish town of Breogan), through to journalistic articles from adult life. Detailed within the pages is the fictional story of the narrator growing up, going to school, his friends and family and the local football team Breogan Citadel. This is also interwoven with the factual, which ranges from the Scottish national football team and their trials and tribulations, to political events in South America and in the United Kingdom. It is a real story of compare and contrast, the parochial and the global. The book has a warm and resonance about childhood days that I can relate to. All I’ll say about the 1978 World Cup is that it provided a massive distraction to my O-Level year, much to the dismay of my parents. However, the cosiness of the childhood environment is shattered on a number of occasions by the realities of life at home and abroad, especially with events such as the atrocities in Chile and Argentina. The narrator within the book provides a summary with the following words. “…Football and politics frequently mix. No matter how hard we try, there’s no getting away from it. Shanks was wrong to separate football from life and death. They are all part of the same cog that keeps spinning generation after generation. It is the sum of its parts…” 

What I love about books is not just the clues that the content gives us, but what the title of the book or the cover may or may not mean. For instance the title, “Countries of the World” – on the one hand this is reference to the wonderful tome that the narrator in childhood uses as his source of information and window on the world. On the other it simply refers to the various countries of the world that come to be detailed through the World Cup years and political events the narrator writes about. Is there significance in the choice of name of Breogan? My old friend Wikepedia informs me that “…Breogán, Breoghan or Breachdan, son of Brath…was a mythical Celtic king from Galicia…” Presumably this is homage to Porter’s life in Spain. Indeed, why is the local football team not simply Breogan City, United or Rovers? Instead we have the intriguingly named Breogan Citadel. Is this in terms of the town being a stronghold, a castle or fortress, a refuge or sanctuary?  I was also curious as to whether the picture adorning the front cover of the book had meaning. The border of the cover showing various flags reflects the title, “Countries of the World”, with the main cover photo featuring Cathkin Park (by Brian Prout). The image shows a worn goal-mouth and posts, whilst in the background remnants of a terrace can be seen amongst the trees. The football reference and relevance is that this park in Glasgow was home to Scotland’s oldest club Queen’s Park (1884 – 1903) and Third Lanark from 1903 until the club folded in 1967. Does it symbolise the death of a club?  It is about the past and dreams lost? Or it is simply a great football image?

For me the book is like a great night out with your mates. You don’t want it to end – it has made you laugh, made you cry, made you think, made you reflect and ultimately has left an impression.


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Book Review: Ebdon to Charlery: London Road Legends – Compiled by Jamie Jones

This eBook (from Division Four Publishing), takes its title from the defining moment in the 1991/92 Third Division Play-Off Final at Wembley between Peterborough United and Stockport County. On a scorching day in May, it proved to be dramatic ninety minutes. After a goalless first-half, the game sparked into life on 51 minutes when from a corner, Ken Charlery had a header which hit the underside of the bar and bounced down. Stockport protested, but the goal stood to give the Posh a controversial 1-0 lead. With the heat draining their energy and players looking tired, the game entered the closing minutes. Then, Stockport broke away on 87 minutes and a cross-shot was parried by Peterborough keeper Barber, which fell kindly to Kevin Francis who had the easiest of headers to level the score. Suddenly the prospect of extra-time loomed, however with 89 minutes on the clock, Marcus Ebdon launched a perfect ball forward, Ken Charlery headed it on, burst past the defender into the box, before coolly slotting over the County keeper. In such moments legends are created.

Therefore it is no surprise to find the two Wembley heroes heralded within the pages of this book. Ebdon and Charlery are joined by players from as early as 1951 (Norman Rigby) through to 2011 (Paul Taylor), as well as influential coaches and managers. The individual articles have been submitted from various writers and so provides a range of styles. Some are humorous observations, whilst others are heartfelt appreciations of those who have graced London Road.

For me the great thing about this type of book is that it provides Posh fans from across the generations, with a view of their club down the years – something of an alternative history. It also has interest for other fans who may not have realised that one of their favourite players wore the blue and white of Peterborough. As a result you’ll find pieces penned on the like of Derek Dougan, Micky Gynn, David Seaman, George Berry, Simon Davies and Jimmy Bullard. My favourite though features Ray Hankin, a centre-forward who included Burnley, Leeds United and Arsenal amongst his clubs prior to London Road.

“…I think Ray Hankin was the ultimate cult hero for Posh. I remember he was dropped for apparently misbehaving in some way before an evening match at London Road vs. Cobblers. He was supposed to be at the ground anyway, but I saw him sat on a bar stool in the Cock Inn, Werrington the whole night. At the end of the game, the barman told him Posh had won 6-0. Ray remained completely expressionless and ordered another drink…”

Football is about moments at our own clubs like Peterborough’s win at Wembley in 1992 and the legends it creates, but equally for me it’s about our cult hero’s as well, warts and all.

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Book Review: The Long Way by A.E.Greb

This was a new experience for me, as it was the first time I had read an eBook. My initial conclusion is that I’m not a fan of the technology. It feels a cold experience and was too much like reading documentation for work. Perhaps over time, if I read more books in this way then my opinion may change, but for now, give this old-timer a ‘real’ book in all its many paged glory. Despite my reticence towards eBooks, I want to say that in no way did it affect the way I approached reviewing The Long Way by A.E.Greb (Wholepoint Publications).

There are many aspects of the book that appealed to me. Firstly, I liked the premise of The Long Way. The author, Ashley Greb “accidently” fell into attending an FA Cup game in the Extra Preliminary Round which then developed into a “plan” to embark on the journey of the 2011/12 FA Cup by the longest possible route in attending a game in every Round and a Replay. In total this amounted to 26 games – a remarkable feat. Secondly, it reinforces the message to those who believe that the FA Cup only begins in January each year, that the tournament actually starts in August, when non-league clubs start out their journey in the Extra-Preliminary Round. Lastly, I loved the scoring system, the Ground Hopper Rules that the author introduced, including my favourite, “…Moral Issue. All games involving MK Dons carry a serious moral dilemma (45% of gate receipts go to each club playing in the tie). An alternative game may be preferable…” The various rules ensured that this journey was not that of other FA Cup trails, where a team is selected from the opening Round and the victors followed all the way to the Final.

In terms of content, the book consists of a brief piece about the author, a foreword, including contributions from FA Cup winner Ian Selley and commentator, Martin Tyler and then pieces from the 26 games in the journey, finishing with some stats, an Appendix and link to photographs from the all the fixtures. The opening game saw the author travel to the Leg O’Mutton Field as Cobham took on Bagshot Lea on 19 August 2011 and ends at Wembley on 05 May 2012 as Chelsea overcame Liverpool. The ‘blog’ style of writing comes comfortably to the author, and this combined with his witty observations makes this an enjoyable read. Whilst providing details about the games attended, Greb also provides his thoughts on the modern game, in relation to areas such as sponsorship, the influence of the Premier League and how the FA Cup has been devalued in the modern era. The stats and Appendix provide some interesting reading, including “the numbers game” which details Round-by-Round, the number of clubs involved, the number going out and the Leagues entering at which stages. Also at the end of the book there is a link to the pictures that the author took throughout his journey. It could be argued that this is an advantage of an eBook in that there is no restriction on the photographs able to be loaded and viewed. Whilst there are some excellent pictures amongst them, for me, there are just too many to look at.

On a personal level I would have liked to have had more detail about how the author obtained tickets for the later stages of the competition, as traditionally these are the fixtures where other FA Cup journeys struggle. However, this is a minor point in an enjoyable jaunt through the 2011/12 FA Cup.

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Book Review: One Northern Soul by J R Endeacott

One Northern Soul was first published in 2002 featuring the character Steven Bottomley and whose story is continued in the 2005 sequel, No More Heroes.

This first book by J R Endeacott focuses on the life of the young Steve as he grows up in Leeds during the 1980’s. From the illustrations on the cover and back of the book, it is evident that Leeds United feature within the pages of this book. On the front, there is a picture of the ‘disallowed’ goal from the 1975 European Cup Final, when Leeds lost 2-0 to Bayern Munich in controversial circumstances. That game in Paris has significance as just as Steve recognises that upon his dad’s return from Paris, “…his passion definitely waned and he never went to watch Leeds away from Elland Road again in his life…”, that somehow this changed the course of his life. As the back cover of the books says, “…if that goal in Paris has been allowed then everything that followed could have been different…”

Indeed, football is used as a metaphor and so the trials and tribulations of Steve’s life are reflected in the ups and downs at Elland Road. The book provides such nice little cameos of growing up in the 1980’s especially of life in Leeds. The reader follows Steve through his final days at school, his early sexual exploits, hooliganism and friendship, all told with a humour, naivety and cockiness-to-shyness that our teenage years inflict upon us emotionally.

One Northern Soul is not a large book, at less than one hundred pages, but contains enough little gems within it to appeal to an audience wider than the good citizens’ of Leeds and the supporters’ of its football club.


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Book Review: Four Minutes to Hell: The Story of the Bradford City Fire by Paul Firth

Saturday 11 May 1985 should have been a day of celebration at Valley Parade as Bradford City paraded the trophy after winning the 1984/85 Third Division title. Instead it became an occasion of horror, devastation and sadness. Towards the end of the first-half in the game against Lincoln City, a small flame was seen underneath an area of seats, but which in minutes turned the whole stand into an inferno. 56 people lost their lives and hundreds more were injured.

Four Minutes to Hell by Paul Firth was written 20 years after the tragedy. Some might question the morality of writing about such an event and it is something that the author did consider and shares his reasoning for publishing the story within the early part of the book. Firth understood that his work could “…perpetuate publicly the memory of the terrible disaster they (the citizens of Bradford) had suffered…” However, the author felt compelled to tell the story, encouraged by those that he spoke to in gathering his research. Firth explains that he decided to go ahead with his project  so that “…those who don’t know what happened will take a little time to find out more and perhaps understand why some of us still want to have that day remembered with dignity for a long time yet…”

The title of the book refers to the estimated time from the first flame to the entire stand being on fire – just four minutes. Hell? Well on two counts really. Firstly, anyone seeing the pictures of the blaze will relate to the biblical reference to the fires of hell and secondly what people suffered at the time and perhaps what some survivors still endure as a consequence of the events that day. The cover of the book is simply laid out featuring the Bradford City colours of Claret and Amber and has a picture which shows the fire having engulfed Block G of the stand and it spreading towards the Bradford End, with some spectators on the pitch as the players look to leave the playing area. In terms of content it is set out in seventeen chapters, with a foreword by Terry Yorath and a postscript, totalling 191 pages and 16 pages of pictures.  Whilst this book features events on that fateful day as seen through the eyes of fans, players, officials and the various emergency services, it also provides details of the aftermath and the changes at Valley Parade and in football that followed the tragedy in 1985.

Paul Firth in the early chapters sets the scene and context in looking at other football disasters, such as Burnden Park (1946), Ibrox (1971) and Hillsborough (1989) and reminds the reader that football and its grounds were a very different event to that which people attend today. The author also provides a detailed description of the lay-out and condition of the main stand in Bradford in 1985, which is useful when Firth recounts the stories of other people on the day of the fire. The majority of the chapters then follow various people and their recollections of that dreadful day, whether they were fans, players, police, media or hospital staff. Chapter fifteen focuses on Mr Justice Popplewell who was to lead the inquiry into the Bradford fire. The second and final Popplewell Report was issued early in 1986 and concluded that the fire started due to “…the accidental lighting of debris below the floorboards in rows I or J…” and recommended that future stands be constructed of non-combustible material and also banned smoking in stands made of combustible materials. Chapter sixteen focuses on how Valley Parade had changed in the twenty years since the fire and looks at the ways in which present day games are organised in terms of policing, stewarding and the legislation and bodies which govern spectator and stadium safety. The final Chapter is Paul Firth’s own story of that day in May 1985 and does bring together a number of strands recounted in earlier chapters.

Four Minutes to Hell is eloquently written which whilst dealing with very personal and sometimes tragic individual stories, never feels voyeuristic in any way. It has an authoritative tone, which is always respectful, but does contain some gentle wit and humour. It is a story which should not be just confined to the readership of football fans; it is about human existence; life and death, loss, grief and guilt, good-luck, fate and the survival instinct, memory and respect. A fitting tribute to all whose life changed on that fateful day in May 1985.

To buy this book, click below:

Four Minutes to Hell: The Story of the Bradford City Fire

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